Locals want school district to pursue environmental mindset

Idea for new committee will be presented to board at upcoming
Gilroy – A group of five residents are working to form an independent environmental oversight committee that would work with the school district to check the impacts district projects have on the environment.

The group, spearheaded by community activist and developer Chris Coté, also consists of former Gilroy Unified School District board members Patricia Blomquist and John Gurich, current parks and recreation commissioner Joan Spencer and GUSD parent Denise Apuzzo.

Tentatively called the GUSD Citizens’ Environmental Oversight Committee, the group hopes to encourage environmentally sound practices as the district maps out plans for new buildings and makes improvements to current infrastructure. Group members hope to present the idea to the school board in the next few weeks.

“We don’t want to be critical of the district, but we want to lend an additional arm where we can do research and give the district a little bit of insight to keep mistakes from happening and keep a more healthful living environment, not only for students in GUSD but for residents in Gilroy as well,” Coté said.

The committee would conduct research about various environmental practices and make recommendations to the board regarding upcoming issues and projects. The group also would work to make sure district projects, such as additions, remodels and changes to schools, are approved by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which oversees air quality throughout the Bay Area.

Group members said GUSD took a step in the right direction when it recently purchased five buses that it used to lease, which replaced five older and higher polluting buses. Hopefully, Coté said, the efforts of the committee will build on that momentum.

The group initially contacted the school board over the summer after an emergency diesel generator was installed at the high school. Spencer, a respiratory therapist, said such generators are known to emit harmful particles that can lead to respiratory and other health problems.

“Since then, I’ve become more concerned about the different projects the school district has going on and how they will affect our environment and our health, especially our children,” she said.

Blomquist, a GUSD board member from 1996 to 2000, said the issue of the generator bothered her as well, and it led her to try and persuade board members and the district to think outside the box about its projects.

“The thing is, if you don’t think this way and you don’t have this kind of knowledge, you’ll just go out and buy diesel generators. It’s not that you’re avoiding doing otherwise, it’s that you haven’t even thought of it,” she said. “But if we had gotten our two cents in, the district might have been able to avoid (buying the generator).”

Gurich, a physical education teacher and golf instructor at Andrew Hill High School in San Jose, said his interest in serving on the committee partly stems from his concern for children’s health and physical well-being.

One of the issues Gurich is particularly interested in, he said, is the new Christopher High School, which is slated to open in 2008 on 50 acres on the west side of Santa Teresa Boulevard at Day Road.

Gurich, who served on the board from 2000 to 2004, was the lone dissenter when the new high school was approved at that site, saying he thought the board should take more time to evaluate other locations that were further into town.

Group members said they realize the district is strapped both financially and in terms of staffing, but they hope offering GUSD assistance will be well received.

“It’s time for people to start taking a voluntary role,” Coté said. “It will take volunteers from the community. I’m sure there are other experts out there that have more knowledge than we do that we’d be glad to include in this.”

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